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  • Somerton Conservation Area Appraisal

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    Somerton Conservation Area Appraisal DRAFT JUNE 2017

    Introduction Conservation areas are areas of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. Section 69 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 imposes a duty on local authorities to identify appropriate parts of their areas, to designate them as conservation areas and to keep them under review. Historic areas are now extensively recognised for the contribution they make to our cultural inheritance, economic well-being and quality of life. Public support for the conservation and enhancement of areas of architectural and historic interest is well established. By suggesting continuity and stability, such areas provide points of reference in a rapidly changing world: they represent the familiar and cherished local scene. Over 9000 have been designated nationally since they were introduced in 1967 and there are over 80 in South Somerset The Somerton Conservation Area was first designated in 1970 and extended in 1978. The District Council is required by the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to define the special interest and publish proposals for the preservation and enhancement of conservation areas. Conservation area appraisals contribute to the fulfilment of this requirement. In order that designation is effective in conserving the special interest, planning decisions must be based on a thorough understanding of the Conservation Areas character. Appraisals are therefore essential tools for the planning process and to manage informed intervention. They will provide a sound basis, defensible on appeal, for the relevant development plan policies and development control decisions and will form the framework for effective management of change. The appraisal will help provide the District Council and the local community with a clear idea of what features and details contribute to the

    special character of the conservation area. The more clearly the character or special interest of a conservation area is defined, the easier it is to manage without damaging that interest.

    The appraisal document follows the content recommended in Conservation Area Designation, Appraisal and Management Historic England 2016

    Summary of special interest - the areas key characteristics

    The historic street plan reflecting influences from the pre-Roman period onwards.

    The open rural landscape setting with glimpsed views out from the conservation area

    The unusually unified character of townscape with strong building lines defining the streets

    The consistent use of Blue Lias stone for walling and boundaries

    A consistency of roof materials in red/orange clay tile in a number of different styles

    The consistent scale within streets and survival of historic plot boundaries

    A good mix of uses to the central core

    The Market Place with its varied spaces, the fine Market Cross and grouping of good quality buildings

    Unusually extensive listing along principal streets in the urban core

    A rural peripheral area of open farmland, farms, country houses and parkland

    Some high quality historic shopfronts

    Substantial town houses and many good examples of well-proportioned smaller houses.

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    The presence of stone boundary walls throughout the conservation area

    Assessment of the special interest Location and context Somerton is situated in the Mid Somerset Hills landscape character area on the low ridge between the Yeo and Cary rivers, close to and overlooking a crossing of the latter a short distance to its east. The town occupies a spur of higher ground between the River Cary and the Mill Stream that lies in a small valley on the south side. Historic development and archaeology The town is first referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 733, when Aethelbald, King of Mercia occupied Somerton, a royal possession of the West Saxon kings. The kings of Wessex re-established their control of the town in the early 9th century. At Domesday the Somerton estate is listed first of the land in the Kings possession. At this time Somerton was clearly the central place of a large royal estate but may not have been urban in character. The extent of the estate was not known, neither was tax paid for it. As an estate centre a royal residence might be expected around which a settlement may have grown up and perhaps formed a short lived burh evidenced by the place name Bury in a court roll of 1349. A market had been granted in 1255 and Somerton was chosen as the county town in the later 13th century, perhaps due to the erroneous tradition that the town had been the Saxon capital of Wessex. The shire courts and gaol were transferred to Somerton from Ilchester in 1278 and 1280 respectively, which has been cited as the main cause for Ilchesters waning economy in the late 13th and 14th century. By 1290 a new borough had been added, increasing the number of burgages. The position as county town was short lived with the gaol out of use by 1371 and the last visit of the circuit judges in 1530. General decline is also shown by the market ceasing in the late 16th century. However, a new grant was made in 1606

    and the economy of the town seems to have picked up as the market increased in importance, reflected in the growing number of inns situated around the market square and the number of fine quality buildings put up in this period. Despite the successful market and some cloth industry up to the mid-18th century the economy of the town remained essentially agricultural. Following a further slump in the 18th century some recovery was felt in the 19th with new industries in the town; Somerton brewery on West Street, a collar factory on Broad Street, a gloving and shoe bindings factory, a cardboard box factory and quarrying for building stone. However, the town suffered from the lack of a railway, particularly with the line passing through nearby Langport. When a new railway was eventually built through Somerton in 1906, the station was maintained for less than sixty years. The town is now little more than a village despite large modern housing developments added, particularly around the west end of the town, in the 20th century. See Victoria County History for more information. Archaeological potential An Area of High Archaeological Potential (AHAP) has been designated across the core of the town reflecting the potential of the archaeological resource relating to the prehistoric, Roman, Saxon and medieval development of the settlement. The wider area was densely populated in the prehistoric and particularly the Roman periods. Nine Romano-British farmsteads or villas have been located in the area around Somerton which was a rich agricultural hinterland to the Roman town at Ilchester. The historic buildings of the town are an important archaeological resource in their own right as well. Any proposed development within the AHAP will need to include appropriate measures to assess and, if necessary, protect or record the archaeological interest of the site or building. Landscape setting The town is situated elevated above the point at which the River Cary issues from its passage through the Mid Somerset

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    Hills into the open moors to the northwest, the town centre being a mile or so to the southwest of the river The immediate landscape setting of the town is defined by the steep hillsides of the Cary valley falling from its north edge, and the valley of the tributary Mill Stream to the south, which currently contains the towns southward extent. To the west, Somertons setting is less clearly defined, with the town extending across open plateau land toward the Bancombe and Somerton Hills. General character and plan form The form of the town is influenced around the east-west direction of old routes that were dictated by the local topography and the bridging point on the River Cary. The early core of the settlement may have been located in the area to the north of the church overlooking the river valley, known as Bury, the result perhaps of a short-lived Saxon Burh being established here. Alternatively it could have been situated on the elevated spur east of the present town but no firm evidence has been revealed. Later, in the C13th, the borough was established south of Bury and burgage plots laid out around the rectangular market place and along Broad Street south of the east-west route which ran down to the river crossing. The eastward line has disappeared but may be revealed in the historic boundaries that survive north of the churchyard and around the vicarage. West End seems to have evolved from sporadic developments first in C17th and infilled in the C19th. Since then much development and further infilling has occurred to the west and north-west. The present planform incorporates three early foci at Cow Square, perhaps relating to the earliest urban focus; at the C13th market place and at West End where routes from the south and west converge into West Street. The present core of the town is Market Place with churchyard immediately adjoining. This and the streets leading off, Broad Street and West Street, seem to have been laid out in C13th along with burgage plots that are still evident.

    The town possesses a particularly distinctive and homogenous character of modest buildings in the soft grey Blue Lias stone with warm orange clay pantiles and roman tiles particularly in the principle streets mentioned above with consistent built-up frontages forming a strong enclosure of space. Beyond this urban core, which would be sharply defined from its rural surrounds except for the existence of extensive C20th development around the east, south and west sides, the CA encompasses peripheral areas with a marked rural character. These are the pastureland of the eastern extent of the towns ridge site above the Cary valley, known as the Millands; Pesters Lane and the southern slopes down to the Mill Stream; Lower Somerton following the stream east and areas east of the B3151 with more of a parkland character around Somerton Court, Somerton Randle, the Mill, The Grange and Somerton Court Farm. Character and interrelationship of spaces The Market Place is now the centre of the town. Streets radiate from here; east as Kirkham Street, west as West Street and northwards via Broad Street, the former beast market, to Cow Square and then north and east through North and New Streets. St Michaels Church is contained within a distinct inward-looking churchyard hidden behind the Broad St buildings; a green oasis formed with the substantial trees of the Vicarage garden. Beyond the core area the CA has a quiet, very much more villagey feel and beyond that a rural one partly because the town or the urban core ends as the south and north sides of its ridge-top site are reached and partly as the CA is designated around an extensive hinterland of open and parkland: The Millands and part of the Somerton Randle estate to the east and the Mill stream valley to the south. Key views and vistas The topographical position of Somerton provides contained views between buildings out over the surrounding landscape both northwards and southwards

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    Prospects of the open moors to the north are had from Horse Mill Lane and the lanes east of New Street with Hurcot Hill prominent and, in the further distance, Dundon Hill while the open landscape to the south also offers views out from behind West Street, in Pesters Lane and from Parsonage Hill. However there are no formal vistas or views across the landscape from key areas in the urban core. The town is seen from the south on its ridge where the distinctive material colouration can be appreciated. Views from the western side reveal the town less fortunately, with modern development hiding the masking the distinctive character of the historic core. With the CA there are no major urban vistas but of some local views of significance are The vista to St Michaels through the churchyard gates from the Market Place The length of tree-lined Broad Street towards the end of North Street. Landmarks The Market Square with Market Cross, war memorial and church of St Michael behind; The former Town Hall in centre of Market Place and historic inns adjacent. Cow Square with Manor House and small central greenspace.

    Character analysis Somertons historic core has a particularly cohesive character based upon the mostly close-set built frontages of modest vernacular buildings, the distinct palette of materials and consistencies of scale. The southern side of the urban area and the more rural parts to the east including Somerton Randle have a contrasting rural character so the area, to aid description, can be subdivided into 2 areas together with a third in the western extensions

    1. The urban centre Including Market Square, Broad, North, New, Kirkham and West Streets and Behind Bury

    2. Lower and eastern Somerton

    The rural south and east; Mill stream valley, The Millands, and Somerton Randle

    3. Western Somerton Proposed extensions to conservation area.

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    1. THE URBAN CENTRE Form and Layout characteristics The street layout has a grain that runs east -west; Behind Bury, New Street with now-lost East Street north of the church which were the historic e-w routes. North-south connecting streets linked into the present core (Broad and North St) while the urbanised area has drawn out westwards along the routes west and south forming West Street and beyond West End and Sutton Road. Trees and green spaces

    The churchyard with prominent large trees on its west side extending through to the garden of the Old Vicarage

    Small green in Cow Square

    Street trees along Broad St are significant to its character.

    Trees and rear gardens on the east side of Broad Street also but much hidden from public view

    Gardens and open land of north side of New St

    The parkland setting and surrounds to Somerton Randle and Somerton Court with the fine treescape along B3151 road.

    Building materials - Blue lias stone walling overwhealmingly predominant with some Ham Hill dressings. Isolated examples of white or pale render. Roofs clay pan- and roman-tiles mostly, infrequent slate. Stone on Market Cross. Key colour characteristics Strongly characterised by the warm grey of lias stone and the orange clay tile roofs. Characteristic details - Lias walling, white painted or Ham Hill stone dressings,

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    simple gabled ridge roofs, roof lines uninterrupted except for gabled windows that feature regularly. Tabled gable ends common. Windows Stone mullion and white painted trad box sash predominate 6 over 6, 8 over 8, 12 over 12...

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